Archive | March, 2013

XP: Shock: Social Science Fiction

21 Mar

IMAG0320Shock: Social Science Fiction is probably my go-to scienfe fiction story game. It is almost infinately flexible, it allows the players to focus on the things that matter most to them, and it guides the story to a climax very effectively.

Now that I am more well played than the last time I visted Shock: SSF, I can see the Primetime Adventures bloodline shining through. Through the set up and in conflict the players often take a kind of director perspective to the fiction. Out feeling was that we were not resolving conflicts between the characters in the fiction as much as we were storyboarding the rest of the scene between the players. Though this is not a complaint of any kind, this does affect what kind of experience the player has and how one engages the game through play. This was a foreign mode of play for one of our players.

One side effect of this director perspective (and that of the resolution mechanics too), is that some heat is taken off of the personal conflicts between characters. However, the cerebral and abstract threads of the fiction are much more approachable than in some other games. Like always, know what you are looking for and what you are getting.

My only criticizim of Shock is that the resolution mechanics interrupt gameplay, bringing us out of the fiction for several minutes. The diceplay is tightly woven and deceptively involved. It looks like it should be very simple but once the dice hit the table you find out that there is way more to it than you thought. At least one player will need to be very familiar with the text for this not to be a frustrating experience.

On the otherhand, the dice and numbers do capture the aesthetic of the game in a very beautiful way.

A one-shot is not the natural environment for Shock. There just isn’t enough time to get more than a taste of what the game does. Though I determined the shock ahead of time, should I find myself running a one-shot again, I’d pick the issues too and get right to *tagonist creation. But, the issues and the world would need to be fairly familiar for the other players to buy into quickly and fully. Consider a near-future game. Then, play tight scenes that open at the threshold of the conflits and strike for the juiciest bits of each scene right away.

I am very excited to try Shock: Human Contact in a long format now that I have revisted Shock: Social Science Fiction. This summer, perhaps.


Open Play 41: Steal Away Jordan, Under the Bed, Bhaloidam, In A Wicked Age

20 Mar

6pm – 10pm

Tuesday, March 12

Guardian Games

303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

It’s time for another round of story gaming madness!
Here is how this works:
6:00pm – Chit chat, socialize, make merry.
6:10pm – Introduce the games and facilitators, sign up sheets go out.
6:15pm – Game on!
10:00pm – Any and and all who wish go out for drinks and/or banter, probably at the Green Dragon.


Steal Away Jordan:
Steal Away Jordan is a vehicle for players to tell a collective story of the lives of people who live in the shadow of slavery. The emphasis here is on the people, not the place or time. The institution affects everyone, from the child born into bondage to the man who owns him.

Steal Away Jordan is a role playing game written in the spirit of neo slave narratives like Margaret Walker’s Jubilee, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

In this game, players are unlikely but certain heroes.

Like these fictional accounts of slave life, players explore the social and psychological implications of life in a society where people can be property. Ultimately, players consider slavery’s long-term impact on a society and on the descendants of slaves and slave owners.

under the bed
Under the Bed:
“The stuffed animals, toy trucks, and action figures of your childhood did more for you than you remember. They were your guardians, advocates and friends, putting their lives on the line for you.

“Do you have what it takes to be a toy?”

You will play as Toys: green army men, fire trucks, dolls, a sticks shapped like people, a favorite stone. They are each responsible for the well-being of the Child that owns them, but they are not responsible for the well-being of eachother; quite the contrary, in fact: they are in competition for the affections of the Child and will do anything to gain it.

Bhaloidam is an independently-published tabletop storytelling platform that is used for the spinning of collaborative and character-driven storyworlds. In some ways, it is similar to RPGs such as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Burning Wheel, and Fate. However, it differs from traditional RPGs in many significant ways as well.

The most obvious difference is that Bhaloidam uses individual gameboards called Lifewheels instead of character sheets. Spinners (players) place and move stacks of tokens on the Lifewheels to track their influence on the storyworld. Stacks never contain more than three tokens, meaning the comparative math needed to play is easily visualized and comprehended.

Using colorful iconography, the Lifewheel depicts every single rule you need in order to play Bhaloidam. It may seem daunting at first, but once you grasp the core gameplay, it will become one of the most fluid and adaptable storytelling platforms you’ll ever use.

This weeks scenario is The Conspiracy: A group of shadowy conspirators gather to finalize their plans to assassinate a person of great importance.

In A Wicked Age:
In this wicked age…

…Gods, demons and mortals contend with one another for power…

…Law and civilization are new, and no one is their master…

…A simple midwife can set in motion the downfall of tyrants and great empires…

…Your birth is not yours to choose, but your fate is what you make it.

In a Wicked Age is a sword & sorcery roleplaying game of high drama and churning history.

Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at

Gamestorm 15 is right around the corner!

19 Mar

Many of you already know this, but just in case you don’t…


We will be rocking the Indie Hurricane track. Come visit us at the booth, too! See you there for the hottest spontaneous stories in the PNW!

Ladies’ Night – March: An Equinox of Horror and Dread

18 Mar
5:45pm – 10pm
Wednesday, February 20
The Green Dragon Bar & Bustro
928 SE 9th St
No boys allowed! Let’s drink good beer, eat good food, enjoy each others’ company, and play quick, easy-to-learn, story-based role playing games in a welcoming environment.
The game don’t usually begin until 6:15, so feel free to join us for drinks and witty banter before hand. What games are in store? The peerless CJ will be running Cthulhu Dark, a light weight game of Lovecraftian horrors to satiate your need forbidden knowledge on demand. The saucy Sabrina will be running something as well. Not sure what yet, but I can assure you, she IS the sauciest.
All experience levels are… more than welcome, from first time gaming to seasoned storytellers and roleplayers. We’re always looking for more ladies to help facilitate, so shoot me a message or post here if you have a game you’d like to share! If you are intrigued by RPGs and/or story games, but have had your doubts about jumping in to an established group (especially one that — let’s face it — is sort of dominated by dudes), you are SUPER DUPER EXTRA welcome.
These games take no more than a few minutes to learn, play within a couple of hours, and focus on story rather than rules. Story games are a little bit like board games, and a lot like grown-up versions of the “let’s pretend” games you probably played as a child. Above all, They are about TELLING A STORY TOGETHER. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s not about making the best character or mastering the rules. It’s about CREATING something together and HAVING FUN. Come check it out!
PS: If you got this invite and you aren’t a woman, please do us a favor and tell all your female friends! Thanks!

Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared strollytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at

XP: The Drifter’s Escape

12 Mar


This game was on backup at the last RSG, so it wasn’t announced proper with the rest of the games. In case you were wondering when we played this.

I’m still trying to figure out how to make a game of the Drifter’s Escape really pop. I’ve had a few confusing sessions of this game and a a few decent sessions, but it’s not really clear to me what made the difference for each session.

But, I’m pretty sure it comes down to the Drifter much of the time. How the Drifter decides when to make a deal or not seems to set the pace for the game. On one hand, it’s pretty tough for the Drifter to be successful with a deal, so the Drifter usually only makes a deal when it’s really important to them. In and of itself this is fine, but deals are what makes things happen. A lack of deals mean the Devil and the Man have to keep on raising the stakes of each scene until the Drifter feels obliged to make a deal.

Before long the scenes get so crazy that the Drifter has no sense of hope. The player can no longer buy into the Drifter’s struggle, and then has little incentive to make a deal they have a slim chance of winning. This unchecked escalation of stakes has been present in every game of Drifter’s Escape I’ve played.

So what can be done about this?

Drifter, use every resource at your disposal. In particular, re-write goals immediately before making a deal often. You don’t need to re-write all of them, and you don’t need to do it before every deal, but take advantage of this. You need to rack up Dream quickly.

Drifter, redeem somebody as soon as you think a person can help you do something big. Remember, you also pick the deals, so you can set yourself up for assistance. But, you will need to have Dream to spare in order to keep this up.

Devil and Man, make demands frequently. This is really the only say you get in what kinds of deals are struck. Drifter, be willing to take them up on this. A Demand isn’t just an opportunity for them to own your future, it’s an opportunity for you to keep your Debt to them in check.

Devil and Man, keep a gradual and incremental escalation of trouble and danger in the scenes.

Devil and Man, when you make deals with the Drifter, your cost doesn’t need to be all bad. The more the Drifter enjoys your cost the better. You don’t have to go easy, but you don’t need to make them cringe every time (of course, the poker you play with the cost is something to consider too. What does the Drifter think is in your hand based on your cost?).

Finally, focusing on the icons of Americana lends the Drifter’s struggle more meaning than simply having terrible luck. This too may influence what the Drifter find important, and thereby influences what they are willing to deal for.

This is a curious game with a gripping premise, but perhaps it lacks a certain kind of direction to the players. It’s a journey worth taking, but you have to remain willing and open, or you may be frustrated.

XP: Bacchanal

10 Mar


I was very pleased to realize that in addition to being close to Valentine’s Day, this RSG also landed on Mardi Gras. So, if there was ever a perfect time for Bacchanal, this was it.

What is there to say about Bacchanal that isn’t already known? The particular style of play required to make satisfying fiction is well known. The extremely erotic subject matter is the hallmark of this game. The social navigation of deliberate discomfort is a feature of it’s charm. Bacchanal is a very well known entity.

Beyond those obvious features, there are some interesting qualities that might be worth examining more thoroughly for other games. The wine glasses and passing the dice provide a fantastic tactile dimension to play. I would say this is a superexpression of lust. Attention is drawn to color and feel, the sound of dice clattering in the glass and spilling on the table, the feel of the rim of the glass. The game itself is such a spectacle that onlookers are drawn in and curious – it is irresistible. The fiction of the game is about lust, debauchery and decadence, but the act of play is about that too, even when divorced of the fiction. I earn for more games to follow this model.

And yet, there is a subexpression too. You look into the glass and find a story of men and gods, or monsters and threats. This is much like peering into our own soul, a sea of symbols. Just as Bacchus came from the hills to this lavish village we visited our own soul with the secret myths of our own minds. And then we play a game about sex, desire and lust, with all inhibitions discarded. This too is a journey to a new depth, and has the potential to encode secrets about the player’s own soul. But who is listening, and who can make sense of this foreign tongue?

And then too, you narrate your findings without commentary from the other players. The game forces you to escalate, plunging deeper and deeper into your findings. And the other players only listen. This onlooking, and this exposition, is again the lust expressed through play.

Bacchanal speaks to me in a way that many games do not. It is a beautiful and smart creation. I learned a lot from this play. Many thanks to the brave souls who consented to play this game with me, in a public space no less.

XP: Poison’d

8 Mar

Poison’d has always been kind of a mixed bag for me. I have played three crap sessions of this game, and one pretty good one. The good one was the one at RSG, thankfully. So, here is what I’ve learned.

It is very important that the sins and brutalities are not selected indiscriminately. These tell a story. What has your pirate done, and what haven’t they done? Why haven’t they done those things? This tells us more about your character than any other step, and it will help to know about it upfront.

Just about everything is a bargain. This pressure is a big deal and pushes the game forward. Anything that could maybe be interpreted as a bargain is a bargain, and hold everybody to it.

If no pirates are doing anything about a situation, make it an Urgency and start rolling dice. Either they will do something, or you will.

Get them off the ship. As soon as possible.

Have a map. This will inspire names of places and descriptions of the locale. If you have a group that can and will riff with few seeds, great, but my experience suggests that this is a borderline necessity.

The whole point of all of this is to get the game going in a direction right away and keep it going somewhere. Or it will stall in the ocean, just like a ship without a captain.

Finally, make all of the “moves” a pirate can make into cards. Put them on the table for all to see. There is a lot of interplay, and little of it is apparent. But it will be clearer if the players can see their options.

There is an amazing game here, but you have to meet it way more than half way and carve it out of the text. This game is way bigger than the booklet would have you believe. Read it, re-read it, and hand write those cards so you can internalize what is going on.

Then be a vicious pirate bastard.

Session 40: Shock: Social Science Fiction, Hellcats & Hockeysticks, A Penny For My Thoughts

6 Mar

6pm – 10pm
Tuesday, March 12
Guardian Games
303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St


Shock: Social Science Fiction:
Shock: Social Science Fiction is a fiction game of culture and future shock. Based on the works of Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Philip K. Dick, the game pushes the players to make stories that matter to them — stories about politics, philosophy, love, and death.

At the core of the world-creation system is the Grid, a method of world creation that uses social concerns and Shocks, to build a fictional world custom-built for the type of story the players want to experience. It cross-references concerns of the players with Shocks to create characters devised to confront those issues.

Players are responsible for both Protagonists and Antagonists, principles with motivation and resources: they represent what you care about as a player and act in a way that highlights and questions the things you care about.

Our Shock: death is cured.

The future is upon us:

Hellcats & Hockeysticks:
St Erisian’s school for girls has stood for over a hundred years and survived war, plague, famine, demonic attack, strange explosions in the science block and countless attempts to get it closed by the government. However, to be fair, not all of these disasters were the fault of the girls who study there.

Hellcats and Hockeysticks is a Role-playing game in which your characters are among the most feared and disreputable creatures of all – Schoolgirls! At St Erisian’s the girls are taught to be curious, forthright, inventive and above all, what they want to be, and to give hell to anyone who tries to stop them. The game is designed to be fast paced and fun, with plenty of opportunities for chaos and destruction. Characters come from one of 9 ‘cliques’ each with their own special ability and selection of skills. The system uses only 6 sided dice and is both simple and innovative.

Hellcats and Hockeysticks is a stand alone RPG of chaos, anarchy and decidedly unladylike behavior. It includes rules for all kinds of mayhem, from falling out with your friends, to creating weird science devices to using magic and summoning demons and zombies. Are you ready for school adventures on the bad side of the tracks?

Welcome to St. Erisian’s:

a penny
A Penny For My Thoughts:
Two women and a man, all dressed in white jumpsuits, sit around a table with a bowl of pennies in its center. Each of them has a small stack of pennies and a printed form. In front of the older woman sits a scrap of paper with the words “a taffy stretching machine” written on it. “… and my father looked down at me and said, ‘If you don’t want to ride the roller coaster, you don’t have to. You can wait here in the candy shop while your brother and I go,’” says the older woman. “I was scared.” As she speaks, the remembered terror creeps into her voice.

Her expression suddenly goes blank. She turns to the man. “What did I do or say then?” she asks, offering him the single penny in front of her.

The man considers for a moment, his brow furrowed. Staring at her, he replies, “You said, ‘No, I want to come with you.’”

She turns to the younger woman. “Or was it…” she begins, offering the same penny.

“You stayed there in the candy shop, chewing your taffy,” the other woman says.

She pauses before speaking again. “Yes, I remember now. I said, ‘No, I want to come with you.’” She hands her penny to the man. “And I had a fantastic time. It was so thrilling, so wonderful. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life. And that is what I remember.”

She smiles as she writes on her sheet of paper, “When I think of taffy stretching machines, I remember how I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I’d never felt such a sense of purpose before.” After she finishes, she takes a penny from the bowl.

“A penny for my thoughts,” she says.

Do you fear what you might find?:

Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at

A Note on Logistics

4 Mar

Hello everybody!

I’m going to be trying a few different things to smooth out the process at the beginning of these events. The big thing is having a signup sheet for each game being played.

I still want to do the big group-hug thing. It’s much nicer to talk about things, but I think that also having sheets will improve our ability to streamline this event and get to playing.

I’ll add a note once we settle on a specific process, but until then know that we may be mixing it up a bit in order to see what works best these days.

See you for our next event on 3/12! Details coming soon.

XP: Archipelago

4 Mar

Archipelago has become my favorite fantasy story game.

The primary reason for this is the sense of relaxation and expansiveness the game fosters. The world really feels wide open. I think it has a lot to do with the map making process and the implied dare to imagine what’s out there. Hot, hot, hot.

But it also has to to with the seeming lack of resolution mechanics. I hesitate to call the mechanics conflict resolution, because it has much more to do with the pace and direction of the narrative than it does the action at hand (this is not entirely true, but the way it relates to my experience as a player feels something like this). The net result is that there is a kind of permission the game gives you to act and express. That is so freeing.

Much of the mechanics have to do with the phrases used by the other players in response to your narration. This bears a great resemblance to Polaris, which is present on two levels. The ritual phrases thing is obvious. But more significantly, this is kind of an automatic social contract calibration tool. The tone of your fiction is determined by the way all players interact with each other through the use of these mechanics. I find this to be a brilliant feature of Polaris, and it is brilliant here, too.

The only bit of advice I might have is to use the “Try It Another Way” phrase a lot. I know it sounds like stepping on toes, and I was reluctant to use it for that reason, but seriously, your game will suffer for not using this. The first hour or so will require revisions, but you will find a stride for your fiction and then you will begin to really explore what the game has to offer. But seriously, the use of this phrase is the best way to get there. I promise.

The long and short of it is this: Archipelago will be a long term game at my table some time soon.